“He is a person, but His body is different from those of conditioned persons like us. Otherwise, meditation beginning from the pranava (omkara) up to the limbs of the personal body of Vishnu would not have been recommended by Shukadeva Gosvami for the attainment of complete spiritual perfection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.19 Purport)
You meditate so that your mind can focus on something, so that whatever it is currently fixated on will be forgotten. In fact, your present troubles are primarily due to the mind that is uncontrolled, distracted by things that you know aren’t important in the long run, but which somehow grab your attention right now, despite your best efforts to forget them. Try telling yourself not to think about something and see how successful you are. In all likelihood, such a demand will make your mind contemplate upon the prohibited subject matter more than you did previously. But for meditation to be truly successful, it must have a tangible object of contemplation. Moreover, that object must not be of the same quality as that which we are trying to forget.
“Huh? What does this mean?” What we are trying to forget is known as maya in the Vedic tradition. As a Sanskrit word maya means “that which is not”. Think of the magician’s illusion or the deceiving picture that shows something to be what it is not. Then imagine basing your enthusiasm or despondency off of that illusion. Would that be very wise? Of course it wouldn’t, for you’d be acting off something that is not true. This entire world we live in is likened to a dream, something which remains manifest for as long as our sleep continues. As soon as we awake, the illusion vanishes.
While dreaming at night we create situations that are imaginary, but the emotions we feel are real. In a similar manner, the pain, suffering and elation experienced through association with maya are certainly real, for otherwise we wouldn’t exist. The dreaming state is temporary, as is the manifestation of matter in front of us. With maya, the falsity is from the perspective of its relation to our true identity. At the core the living entities are pure spirit, which is transcendental to the ever-changing arrangement of matter and its component elements.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Birth in this dreamland is granted to any soul who wishes to be illusioned. Why would anyone prefer that state? Well, we know that we prefer to watch television programs and films that are fictitious. We purposefully try to forget that what we are experiencing is a scripted performance with paid actors who do multiple takes of the same scenes in order to get them right. If we were consciously aware of the production aspect during the time of viewing, we wouldn’t derive as much enjoyment.
In a similar manner, we think that we’ll be pleased in a state of ignorance, where we can compete for resources and vie for the post of “top dog” in the dreamland of the material universe. Of course this is a futile exercise, as since the dream must end, so must the temporary positions of power anyone finds. In addition, the happiness isn’t that great, as with every action there is a commensurate reaction. Happiness is mixed with sadness, and vice versa. The effort to acquire gains is difficult, and with each gain there is a new fear of loss. Hence anxiety knows no limits.
This brings us to meditation. For real peace, the mind requires something that is real to focus on. In the Vedic tradition, which features the origin of the practice of meditation, the focus is either on Brahman, which is the collection of individual spirit, or Paramatma, the localized Supreme Spirit. Brahman, which is essentially identical to Paramatma, does not have the duality that we encounter on a daily basis. Brahman is truth; it is light. It is unchanging and can only be seen through a purified vision acquired through rigorous training. Meditation is one of the training methods in seeing Brahman, and accompanying that practice is the sound vibration known as om.
“From the beginning of creation, the three syllables-om tat sat-have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth [Brahman]. They were uttered by brahmanas while chanting Vedic hymns and during sacrifices, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.23)
Om represents the Supreme Absolute Truth, the sum collection of spiritual fragments. We are all Brahman at the core, and together we make up the entire Brahman energy. The material nature is also Brahman, part of the aspect known as the mahat-tattva, but the meditation with the recitation of om focuses on the spiritual aspect only. The underlying purpose for meditation is to forget our temporary bodily features and conditions and instead focus on truth. Aham brahmasmi means “I am Brahman”, a fact worth remembering because of how easy it is to forget. Indeed, if you are never taught about your identity as Brahman, you will never discover it on your own.
At the same time, Brahman has a source. The entire spiritual energy is just a partial effulgence coming off of that source’s gigantic body. This body is different, however. It is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. It does not change in the cycle of reincarnation as our bodies do. It has existed since time immemorial and will continue to exist into the infinite future. It also has other similarly eternal bodies that have the same divine qualities.
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the teacher Shukadeva Gosvami advises the materially attached person to meditate with the syllable om and focus on the various body parts of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord in His four-armed form. You start by focusing on Vishnu’s feet and then work your way up. It is important to understand that with this recommendation the great speaker of the Bhagavatam is declaring undeniably that the body of the Supreme Lord is not like the material bodies.
How do we know this? If the goal of meditation is to focus on Brahman and not the body, why are we advised to focus on the body of someone else? Why would the central practice of meditation involve concentration on body parts that are maya? Thus we automatically deduce, without requiring further explanation that is provided anyway by the authorized Vedic texts, that Vishnu’s body is completely spiritual.
More visually appealing than Vishnu’s body is the form of Lord Krishna, considered the original Personality of Godhead. He has the same bluish complexion as Vishnu, but has two hands instead of four, and holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Vishnu and Krishna are the same person, and it is just a matter of taste as to which personality to worship. There are also the Vishnu-tattva expansions, the incarnations that are equally as brilliant.
The Supreme Lord is the source of Brahman, and thus there is no distinction between His body and His spirit. Meditation is one way to get closer to Him, especially if we are too materially engrossed to accept that a Supreme Lord exists and that He has wonderful features and pastimes. The amazing activities of Shri Krishna documented in the Vedic texts are taken to be mythology by the less intelligent, who only believe in things they have witnessed in their short time on earth, but even in that ignorant state all hope is not lost. The process of meditation is there to ease the transition to full knowledge, a tool to be taken advantage of, and om is one of its key components.
This is Krishna’s mercy, after all, that He allows any person to make advancement in consciousness despite their inauspicious mental condition. With the chanting of om, the mind may still be diverted towards other forms, as we are naturally drawn by attractiveness. Therefore the Vaishnavas regularly chant Krishna’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and never forget the sweetness of the Supreme Lord and His transcendental features. That constant remembrance ensures that the dream of maya ends very soon, with the devotee waking up to a new beginning filled with hope and light.
From attachment, material forms in mind stay,
So aim of meditation is from maya to draw away.
Consult the Vedas to learn of meditation that is real,
With a focused mind calming peace and felicity feel.
Shukadeva Goswami process of meditation recommends,
Chant om and towards limbs of God your eyes send.
But does not this represent a contradiction?
For attachment to matter already mind’s predilection.
In this way know that Vishnu’s form maya is not,
Meditate on Him for painful nightmare to stop.